Philadelphia Campaign > Battle of Brandywine

Battle of Brandywine


The Battle of Brandywine, fought on September 11, 1777, was a significant engagement during the American Revolutionary War. This battle took place near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and involved American forces under General George Washington clashing with British troops commanded by General Sir William Howe. The battle was part of the British campaign to capture Philadelphia, the American capital at the time.


  1. British Strategy:

    • In 1777, the British sought to capture Philadelphia, the seat of the Continental Congress, hoping to demoralize the American cause and bring the war to a swift conclusion.
    • General Howe sailed his army from New York City, landing at the northern end of Chesapeake Bay. From there, he began his march toward Philadelphia.
  2. American Defense:

    • General George Washington, anticipating Howe’s move, positioned his troops along the Brandywine River to block the British advance. Washington aimed to defend the approaches to Philadelphia and prevent the British from capturing the city.
    • Washington's army consisted of about 11,000 soldiers, including Continental Army regulars and militia.

The Battle:

  1. Forces Involved:

    • British Forces: General Howe commanded approximately 15,500 troops, including British regulars, Hessian mercenaries, and Loyalist units.
    • American Forces: General Washington's army comprised around 11,000 men, including Continental Army soldiers and militia.
  2. Initial Deployment:

    • Washington deployed his forces along several fords of the Brandywine River, with the main defensive position at Chadds Ford. He hoped to use the natural barrier of the river to his advantage.
    • The American left flank was anchored by troops under General John Sullivan, while General Nathanael Greene held the center, and General Anthony Wayne was positioned on the right.
  3. British Plan:

    • Howe devised a two-pronged attack. He sent a flanking column under General Charles Cornwallis on a wide, concealed march north to cross the river at an unguarded ford, intending to outflank the American positions.
    • Meanwhile, Howe led a smaller force directly against Washington’s center at Chadds Ford to hold the Americans in place.
  4. Engagement:

    • The battle began in the morning with skirmishes at Chadds Ford as the British probed the American defenses. Washington initially believed this was the main British attack.
    • Around midday, Cornwallis’s flanking column crossed the Brandywine at unguarded fords and began advancing south toward the American right flank.
  5. American Response:

    • Washington received conflicting reports about the British movements but eventually realized the threat posed by Cornwallis’s flanking maneuver. He ordered troops under Sullivan and Greene to reposition to meet the flanking attack.
    • Despite valiant efforts, the American troops were caught off guard and outflanked. Sullivan's troops, in particular, faced intense pressure from the advancing British forces.
  6. Battle Climax:

    • The British flanking attack overwhelmed the American right flank, forcing a retreat. Simultaneously, Howe’s frontal assault at Chadds Ford intensified, adding to the American difficulties.
    • Washington attempted to organize a defense at Birmingham Hill, but the position was quickly overrun by the British.
  7. Retreat:

    • As the British pressed their advantage, Washington ordered a general retreat to avoid encirclement and destruction. The American forces withdrew in relatively good order, preventing a complete rout.

Aftermath and Impact:

  1. Casualties:

    • The battle resulted in significant casualties on both sides. The Americans suffered around 1,200 killed, wounded, or captured. British casualties were approximately 600 killed or wounded.
  2. British Victory:

    • The Battle of Brandywine was a clear tactical victory for the British, allowing them to continue their advance toward Philadelphia. The American army, although defeated, managed to retreat and regroup, preserving its fighting capability.
  3. Capture of Philadelphia:

    • Following the victory at Brandywine, British forces entered and occupied Philadelphia on September 26, 1777. This occupation dealt a blow to American morale but did not achieve the strategic effect the British hoped for.
    • The Continental Congress relocated to York, Pennsylvania, avoiding capture and continuing to function as the American government.
  4. Continued American Resistance:

    • Despite the defeat, the American army remained intact and continued to pose a significant threat to British forces. The resilience and ability to regroup demonstrated the resolve of the Continental Army.
    • The British occupation of Philadelphia stretched their supply lines and exposed them to further American attacks, contributing to the eventual failure of their campaign.


The Battle of Brandywine remains a notable engagement in the American Revolutionary War, illustrating both the challenges and the resilience of the American forces in their fight for independence.

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